Sun Salutations also known as Surya Namaskar, are a traditional series of yoga poses, or asana, performed in the morning to greet the day. There are many variations of Surya Namaskar; and the series of postures is often used to connect other yoga poses in a vinyasa yoga class. It can also be used as a warm-up or as a stand-alone yoga practice.
Sun Salutations are a great way for beginners to stretch and strengthen their entire body, while also working on connecting breath and movement. Sun Salutations are often performed in sets of five; but feel free to do more or less. While sun salutations are traditionally performed at sunrise, feel free to salute the sun whenever you need a little warmth in your body.
Let’s take a look at three variations of the Sun Salutation: the Half Sun Salutation, Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B.
Half Sun Salutation
The Half Sun Salutation is really just the beginning of Sun Salutation A. It is a great way to warm up your body and begin to connect breath and movement. The Half Sun Salutation is also a wonderful series of postures to stretch and length your hamstrings (which you will use later on in Downward-facing dog).
- To begin, start in Mountain Pose. Your feet should be hip distance apart, your shoulders are set on your back and your spine is long. Draw your palms together at your heart center in prayer position.
- Inhale and sweep your arms out and up, allowing your arms to meet above head.
- Exhale and fold forward, reaching towards your toes. If your hands do not reach your toes you have two options. You can gently bend your knees or you can simply rest your hands on your legs. It is important to support your back.
- Inhale and lift halfway up, flatting your back and moving into an upside down ‘L” shape.
- Exhale and fold down again, placing your hands on your toes or your legs.
- Inhale and reverse swan dive all the way back to your starting position.
Repeat 3-5 times.
Sun Salutation A
Sun Salutation A strings together a series of 8 yoga poses. The aim is to flow through the poses using your breath to guide your movement and vice versa. It is a series that takes practice and time to master. Sun Salutation A begins and ends with the Half Sun Salutation.
- Perform steps 1-5 of Half-Sun Salutation.
- Plank Pose: On an inhale jump or step back into Plank Pose, which looks like the top of a high push up.
- Exhale and lower your body down through Chaturanga. As you lower to the floor keep your elbows in tight.
- Inhale and draw your chest forward, lengthening your arms and arching your back into Cobra Pose. Your heart center will be opening here as your chest opens to the sky.
- Exhale and lift your hips as you move into Downward-Facing Dog Pose. In Downward-facing dog your body is the shape of an inverted letter “V.” Hold this pose for 3-5 rounds of breath.
- On an exhale, walk or hop your feet forward into fold forward.
- Finish following steps 4-6 of Half Sun Salutation
Repeat 3-5 times. If holding Downward-Facing Dog Pose is too challenging, feel free to move into Child’s Pose for 3-5 breaths.
Sun Salutation B
Sun Salutation B is very similar to Sun Salutation A. This version adds a few more movements and further opens your body in preparation for the rest of your yoga practice. The additional movements include Chair and Warrior I poses. Performing a few rounds of the Half Sun Salutation and Sun Salutation A is a great way to prepare for Sun Salutation B.
- To begin, stand in Mountain Pose as detailed in the Half Sun Salutation instructions
- Inhale as you bend your knees and sit back as if sitting back in a chair, while lifting your arms straight along your ears. This is Chair Pose, breathe.
- Exhale, while straightening your legs and hinging forward into Forward Fold.
- Inhale, and hinge halfway up, making your back long and flat.
- Exhale back into Forward Fold.
- On an inhale jump or step back into Plank Pose. Then slowly lower down, on an exhale, through Chaturanga. (Just like Sun Salutation A)
- Inhale, drawing your chest forward and opening into Cobra Pose.
- Exhale and life your hips into downward facing pose. Hold for 3 rounds of breath.
- On an inhale, lift your head and look forward. Step your right foot forward between your hands. Bring your right knee to about 90 degrees. Your left leg is long and your left foot is now planted on the ground.
- Engage your core. Inhale, lifting your arms and hinging upward. Your legs should not move. Your arms will move along your ears, with your finger tips reaching toward the ceiling. This is Warrior I pose.
- Hinge forward, bringing your hands back to the floor. Step your right foot back, moving back into Plank Pose.
- From plank, move through the vinyasa. Pressing down in Chaturanga, back bending in cobra and then pausing in Downward Facing Dog pose.
- Repeat Warrior Pose on the left side. Followed by the vinyasa flow: plank, chaturanga, cobra and downward facing dog pose.
- Then finish the series how you began. On an inhale, walk or hop both legs forward. Pause in Forward Fold.
- Inhale halfway up and then exhale back into Forward Fold.
- Bend your legs, inhale hinging upward and stopping in Chair Pose. Breathe.
- Exhale and lengthen your legs until they are straight. Bring your hands together at your heart center.
Repeat 3-5 times.
As you practice the Sun Salutations, you will notice your breath becoming smoother and more automatic. Use your breath to flow through the poses at your own pace. You can also get creative and add in a couple more poses to create your own personal Sun Salutation.